Working in Australia

Salary, working hours and Tax File Number

There’s a federal minimum wage in Australia, which in 2004 was $467.40 per week (the unions are lobbying for it to be raised to $494), but most job sectors are bound by ‘award’ wages, which are set for different industries, professions and trades through a unique system, decided at federal or state level by pay agreements between unions and employers.

Government surveys of average weekly earnings are published regularly for a wide range of trades and professions, both nationally and for individual states and cities. The government-run organisation Wagenet has a website where you can consult wages and conditions of employment information (www.wagenet.gov.au ). There are also a number of books which detail wages in different occupations, including What Jobs Pay by Rod Tilson (Hobsons Press).

In 2004, the average weekly wage for adults in full-time employment was around $960 ($1,006 with overtime) and $698 ($714.50 with overtime) for women. A third of employees earn less than $450 a week (many migrants from non-English speaking countries earn below $350 a week), while around 10 per cent earn over $1,200 a week.

Graduates can expect to start on annual salaries of around $36,000. At the other end of the scale, managing directors earn between $350,000 and $600,000 a year in Sydney compared with $200,000 to $400,000 in Melbourne and $140,000 to $225,000 in Perth. Executive salaries in Australia are fast catching up with the rest of the world, and expatriate American bosses of top Australian companies earn $millions a year (including $tens of millions in bonuses in the form of share incentives/options and performance-related bonuses).

Working hours

Working hours in Australia vary according to your employer, your position and the type of industry in which you’re employed. A national 38-hour working week was introduced in 1981, since reduced to 37 hours. However, many people work longer hours, particularly employees in factories, who often work ten or more hours’ overtime per week. (A survey in 2003 showed that almost a third of full-time employees work more than 48 hours per week.) A standard working day (without overtime) for a blue-collar worker is from 7 or 8am to 3.30 or 4.30pm, while working hours in most offices and shops are from 8.30 or 9.30am until 4.30 or 5.30pm, with an hour’s break for lunch.

Tax File Number

Your tax file number (TFN), consisting of nine digits, is probably the most important number you receive in Australia. Without one, you’re taxed at the maximum rate (47 per cent) on all your wages (it’s that important!). You also need a TFN to claim unemployment and sickness benefits, to make any investment and to enrol in a fee-free course of higher education. It’s required when completing your annual income tax return and when you start work or change jobs (there are both personal and business tax file numbers).

You can obtain an application form for a TFN from your local Australian Tax Office (ATO). You must produce identification, such as your birth certificate, driving licence or passport with a valid visa, and should receive your TFN around two weeks after making an application. The ATO publishes a brochure, Applying for Your Tax File Number, which explains the application procedure.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Australia. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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